Disgraced accountancy giant PwC is continuing its cover-up of the tax advice scandal and is refusing to hand over the names of the “dirty six” international partners involved.
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has told the Senate inquiry into consultancies it has not obtained a copy of PwC global’s “report” into the tax scandal — and that PwC was “deliberately hiding” between the differences in laws covering its Australian and international arms.
“We have no power to compel the production of that report,” ATO Second Commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn told the inquiry this morning.
“We share the frustrations of this committee that an organisation which claims to be cooperative is deliberately hiding behind the difference between their local firm and the international firm”.
Inquiry chair, Coalition senator Richard Colbeck, asked: “Do you know who PwC International’s dirty six are?”
“Senator…we do not know who the six PwC partners, or former partners, are, which are mentioned in the Linklaters report,” Hirschhorn replied.
“PwC International is very aware of the interest of the Australian community in that document”.
Colbeck told the inquiry PwC global was “thumbing their nose at our parliament as a representative group of people”.
The Tax Practitioners Board said there were nine probes underway into the PwC tax scandal.
ATO’s Jeremy Hirschhorn fronts the inquiry this morning. Source: Australian Senate
Senator Barbara Pocock said the failure of PwC to “come clean” on a “basic piece of information” was a “running sore of dishonesty”.
“Who are the international players who have benefitted, or have been involved?” Pocock said.
“We don’t know the story, there is a story, it (Linklaters report) was prepared, this parliament deserves to have it and so does the ATO.
“What we have in PwC’s refusal to provide that (document) is a running sore of dishonesty and it is not appropriate for Australians”, said Pocock.
“(It’s) a running sore of dishonesty and it is not appropriate for Australians” — Senator Pocock
Senator Pocock at today’s hearings. Source: Australian Senate
In January last year it emerged PwC had, from at least 2014 to 2018, obtained confidential Australian Government tax policy data, while advising on new laws to prevent multinationals avoiding Australian tax, and shared it with PwC firms around the world.
PwC created a global team — “Project North America” — to spruik, to multinational clients, structures to avoid the new laws that PwC was helping to create.
Following months of community outrage, PwC Australian announced it had appointed businessman Ziggy Switkowski to conduct a “review” — however it later emerged PwC had instructed Switkowski to not investigate the tax affair, or anything pre-2023.
In September last year PwC Australia released the Switkowski “review”, along with a “statement of facts”.
The statement of facts said PwC International had engaged a law firm, Linklaters, to examine the affair, and that six people internationally had been identified — but those people were not named.
At the same time, PwC International posted a brief statement to its website, but it has at all times refused to release the findings of Linklaters or to disclose the names of those international partners involved.
The inquiry heard PwC Australia has said it does not have a copy of the report.
Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) chairman Peter de Cure this morning told the inquiry there were “nine current investigations” into PwC, three of which were “well advanced”.
PwC had not provided the TPB with the Linklaters report.
When asked by Colbeck whether he knew who the “dirty six” were, de Cure said he did not.
“I’ve read the relevant emails … I have a reasonable idea that they’re in New York and I think some are in California,” he said.
“That, again, that’s an inference from what I’ve read.
“Reading the emails, you can clearly identify PwC US personnel who were in receipt of information and in discussion with the Australian firm about Project America,” de Cure said.
A 144-page cache of internal PwC emails shows PwC members sharing confidential Australian Government data around the worked from 2014 to 2018.
Hirschhorn said PwC had sought to place “great emphasis” on a “signed confidentiality agreement” involving former PwC partner Peter Collins, who was the only person named when the scandal broke in January last year.
“If you took the position that what was important was the existence of a signed confidentiality agreement, it might be that very few people knew that there was a signed confidentiality agreement,” Hirschhorn said.
“If you approached this from the perspective ‘did people know this was a breach of confidentiality?’, you might find that’s a very different test”.
PwC Australia CEO Kevin Burrowes, brought in from PwC UK last year after the scandal broke, today told the inquiry PwC International was refusing to provide PwC Australia with a copy of the Linklaters report.
“I’ve formally requested the Linklaters report again from PwC International Limited,” Burrowes said.
“That request was refused on the basis that the information contained in that report is privileged and confidential to PwC”.
Inquiry chair Colbeck said PwC global was “thumbing their nose at our parliament”.
“Don’t we at least deserve to understand what the penalties were and what they did?”
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